Late-night TV did its best to address the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. Which is not something they would have done back in the day. Johnny Carson avoided geopolitics, recognizing that people were trying to fall asleep to his show and didn’t want to think about anything too dark right before bed. This started to change with the ’90s version of late night. Leno made his bones on big news stories like the O.J. Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But ever since Jon Stewart’s Daily Show became a primary news source for 18-to-29-year-olds, hosts have had to weigh in on heavier matters. This happened with the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, it happened with Me Too, and it happened with the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Below, how the hosts coped with a constantly escalating political situation in their monologues.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
On Sunday, October 15, John Oliver broke with the format of his show to deliver a segment on what was going on with Israel and Gaza. Rather than start the show with Last Week Tonight’s typical opening, Oliver began the episode by addressing the conflict. “Many Israelis and Palestinians are feeling justifiable anger right now, not just at Hamas, whose utterly heinous terrorist acts set this week’s events in motion, but also at the zealots and extremists across the board who consistently thwarted attempts at peace over the years,” Oliver said in the opening. “Israelis and Palestinians have been let down by their leadership time and time again. And I don’t have a great deal of faith in the leaders currently in charge to steer us toward peace.”
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
The current host of The Tonight Show took a page from Carson’s book and avoided the subject altogether until the monologue was over. His first joke was about Taylor Swift being MIA at Sunday’s big football game. “Our hearts go out to everyone who’s been impacted,” he said once he reached the desk.
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Jimmy Kimmel put the focus on Trump, because that’s also where Trump focused. Kimmel called out Trump’s Walhbergian delusion that none of this would be happening if he were still in charge. “That’s right,” Kimmel said, “if he was president, we’d all be blissfully downing jiggers of bleach. There’d be no war anywhere.”
Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Colbert opened his show discussing how impossible it is to joke about this. “The human mind simply refuses to do it,” he said. “Even A.I. refused to do it.” Apparently the Late Show staff tried asking ChatGPT to write the monologue for them (which is technically allowed under the new WGA contract, as long as ChatGPT isn’t credited as the writer), but it refused.
Late Night With Seth Meyers
Seth Meyers also opted to go the sincere route, saving discussion of the war until after completing his monologue. Meyers said he wouldn’t pretend to have answers and urged us all to retain our compassion and humanity. “When we are justifiably blind with rage and sadness, we can make choices that will have massive, irrevocable impacts on the lives of our fellow man,” he shared. “It requires the absolute best of us to think clearly in times like this. And I hope with all my heart the best of us can emerge in this time of unthinkable loss.”
The Daily Show
The first guest host for The Daily Show’s return, Michael Kosta, briefly joked about “the one big story in the world right now,” the Taylor Swift Eras Tour movie at the top of his monologue, before diving into the Israel-Hamas conflict. Kosta admits that he is “poorly educated” on the situation and will bring on an expert later in the show before making one joke about Great Britain’s historical involvement in the crisis. He then returned to Taylor Swift and Trump jokes, as most of the other late-night hosts did. After the monologue, Kosta led a discussion with political expert Ian Bremmer, the president & founder of Eurasia Group & GZERO Media, who explained the severity of the situation.